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House Rules: A Novel Paperback – Unabridged, November 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743296443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743296441
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (811 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The astonishing new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult about a family torn apart by an accusation of murder.

They tell me I'm lucky to have a son who's so verbal, who is blisteringly intelligent, who can take apart the broken microwave and have it working again an hour later. They think there is no greater hell than having a son who is locked in his own world, unaware that there's a wider one to explore. But try having a son who is locked in his own world, and still wants to make a connection. A son who tries to be like everyone else, but truly doesn't know how.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. He's hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject--in his case, forensic analysis. He's always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do...and he's usually right. But then his town is rocked by a terrible murder and, for a change, the police come to Jacob with questions. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger's--not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, flat affect--can look a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel. Suddenly, Jacob and his family, who only want to fit in, feel the spotlight shining directly on them. For his mother, Emma, it's a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that always threaten her family. For his brother, Theo, it's another indication of why nothing is normal because of Jacob. And over this small family the soul-searing question looms: Did Jacob commit murder?

Emotionally powerful from beginning to end, House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way--and fails those who don't.

Explore the reading group guide for House Rules.


A Conversation with Author Jodi Picoult

Q: How did you first decide upon Asperger's Syndrome as the focus for this novel?

A: I have a cousin who's autistic. Several times, my aunt found herself in a public place trying to control one of his meltdowns--and people who didn't understand why she was restraining him contacted authorities and made allegations of abuse. As he got older, and moved into a group home, his frustrations became more intense because of his size--he'd break in windows with his fist, for example--and several times the police were called. It got me thinking that the legal system works really well, if you communicate a certain way. But if you don't, it all goes to Hell in a handbasket really quickly. A lot of the hallmark behaviors of autism--flat affect, stimming, not looking someone in the eye--could very easily be misinterpreted as signs of guilt.

Q: You have been known to do extensive research about the topics in your books. What was the research process like for this novel?

A: In addition to meeting with attorneys to get the legal information accurate, I met with six teens with Asperger's, and their parents--face to face. Even though some of the kids were very awkward in a direct setting, I needed to experience that to understand how the rest of the world would feel coming in contact with Jacob. But kids with Asperger's, who are so smart, shine when you let them answer questions on paper. So another 35 teens and their parents answered lengthy questionnaires for me about themselves, their reactions to situations, their lives, their hopes, their frustrations. It made for some incredible reading, and many of their direct experiences wound up in Jacob's life. One of these young women with Asperger's Syndrome was so detailed in her writing and so open about her experiences that she volunteered to help me further. She read the manuscript for accuracy and told me, based on Jacob's voice, what seemed consistent and what, in her opinion, Jacob would never say or do. The last bit of research I did was incredibly fun--I shadowed a CSI for a week. I got to learn blood spatter analysis, to do presumptive semen tests, to check out crime scenes, and to observe an autopsy. It was fascinating!

Q: When your central characters are in a real-life situation that affects so many people around the world--in this case, dealing with the effects of Asperger's Syndrome and autism on a family--is there more pressure on you as the author to "get it right"?

A: It doesn't really matter whether it's Asperger's or a rape victim or a cancer patient--when research subjects open up to me with such honesty I ALWAYS feel a responsibility to "get it right."

Q: If you could say one thing to the families who are dealing with the effects of having an autistic child, what would it be?

A: That you're not alone--and that, hopefully, more and more people will come to understand that a child who's "different from" is not one who is "lesser than."

Q: In a previous interview, you referred to your novels taking part in a long line of "moral and ethical fiction." When you first began writing, did you have the intention of using your work as a springboard for conversation about moral and ethical issues? Or did that come later on?

A: I think I started gravitating toward that sort of niche as I kept writing. I have always written about subjects that engage me--questions I can't answer myself. They apparently tend to be big moral and ethical issues! But I never lose sight of the fact that before I was a writer, I was a teacher. I still am. My classroom's just gotten a little bigger.

Q: House Rules is your seventeenth novel. Do you feel your writing has changed since your first novel? If so, was it an intentional change, or is it something you've noticed over time?

A: I think my writing has become "cleaner." By that I mean that technically I've improved--I might turn a metaphor in five words now, where years ago, it would have taken me a paragraph. I can't say it was intentional--but you know what they say about practice making perfect…!

Q: Why did you choose to end the book when you did, rather than going into what happens to the characters in the aftermath of the trial?

A: Because at heart, this is Jacob's book. And remember, to Jacob, there was never any real mystery here, was there?

Q: Could you talk for a moment about Emma's character and her struggles throughout the book? You've said that your characters' voices come to you, that they take on a life of their own. Did you find yourself agreeing with Emma's choices as the novel progressed?

A: I think Emma is a very typical, very overwhelmed mom. A lot of the moms of autistic kids I met are so consumed with being their child's advocate that there's no room for anything else--least of all themselves. It's why so many marriages end in divorce, when a child is diagnosed on the spectrum. Emma's journey in this book is one of unwinding--allowing herself to define herself as more than just Jacob's mother, because that's been completely eroded by his autism.

Q: If the main characters in this novel had favorite books, what do you think they would be?

A: What a great question! I think Jacob's would be, clearly, anything written by Dr. Henry Lee. Oliver would love Presumed Innocent by Turow--it's probably why he decided to go to law school. Theo would read Vonnegut. He wouldn't understand Vonnegut, but he'd think it's the kind of thing a rebel would read. Rich--I think he's a closet softy, the kind of guy who's got a dog-eared copy of The Sun Also Rises in his nightstand. And dare I hope that Emma reads Jodi Picoult novels?

Q: Could you give us a glimpse into your next project?

A: Sing You Home, the 2011 book, is the story of Zoe Baxter, who has spent ten years trying to get pregnant. After multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true--she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max. In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist--using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer's patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa--a guidance counselor--asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe's surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.

Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle--until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor--Clive Lincoln--has vowed to fight the "homosexual agenda" that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.

Sing You Home explores what it means to be gay in today's world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation--two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind--enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a "traditional family" in today's day and age?

Also--in a very unique move--readers will get to literally hear Zoe Baxter's voice. I am collaborating with Ellen Wilber, a dear friend who is also a very talented musician, to create a CD of original songs, which will correspond to each of the chapters. This CD will be packaged with each hardcover book. So--literally--stay tuned!


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Perennial bestseller Picoult (Handle with Care) has a rough time in this Picoult-esque blend of medical and courtroom drama that lacks her usual storytelling finesse. Eighteen-year old Jacob Hunt has Asperger's syndrome, and his devoted single mother, Emma, has built their family's life around Jacob's needs, sacrificing her career to act as his caregiver and all but ignoring a younger son, Theo. But when Jacob is accused of murder, that carefully crafted life comes apart, and all of the hallmarks of Jacob's diagnosis begin to make him look guilty. Emma hires a young attorney whose attachment to Jacob brings him close to the family as he struggles to mount a defense for Jacob, whose inability to read social cues makes him less than an ideal client. While Picoult's research is impeccable and she deals intelligently with charged questions about autism and Asperger's, the whodunit is stretched sitcom-thin and handled poorly, with characters withholding information from the reader throughout. Picoult's writing, line by line, is as smooth as ever, and she does a great job of getting into Jacob's head, but the wobbly plotting is a massive detriment. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers "The Storyteller," "Lone Wolf," "Between the Lines," "Sing You Home," "House Rules," "Handle with Care," "Change of Heart," "Nineteen Minutes," and "My Sister's Keeper." She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

Customer Reviews

A very insightful book about Aspergers Syndrome.
paul nelson
From page 130 I knew the ending but I kept reading it because I assumed it had to get interesting, but it did not.
Avid Reader
The story just ended up dragging on and on and was too repetitive.
Karen Ryan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

405 of 453 people found the following review helpful By Nicola Mansfield on March 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a person with Asperger's I am dismayed with Picoult's portrayal of an adult with Asperger's Syndrome. Picoult starts off by showing us all the sources she has used for her research but once one starts reading it is obvious she is so full of research she doesn't know what to do with it. She has taken every possible symptom of both Asperger's and autism (which are two different diagnoses) and put them all into the character of Jacob. Not only is Jacob loaded down with every single symptom, each of his symptoms are of the most extreme variety. A real-life 'aspie' (as we call ourselves) will have some, perhaps even many, but certainly not all textbook examples, of the symptoms and then they are at varying degrees. What Picoult has done here is a disservice to the Asperger's community.

From the mother: "Since there's no cure yet for Asperger's, we treat the symptoms ...". Asperger's is not a disease or an illness! There is no cure because one is not needed. Just from reading the positive reviews of this book I see the word "illness" being used over and over to describe Asperger's and that is because the book has left readers unfamiliar with AS with that impression. I could sit here and write an essay refuting all the quotes on the dog-eared pages I created while reading, but I won't. If you want a realistic view of a young man with Asperger's I urge you to read the book "Marcelo in the Real World" by Francisco X. Stork. The main character is 17 years old and is very comparable to Jacob only the author has done an excellent job in portraying Asperger's, showing the struggles we face but also shows that we do indeed function and do not need anyone's sympathy.

BTW, I did give the book 2 stars because if I removed the whole Asperger's element I thought the mystery was quite interesting with a fun little twist to the solution.
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111 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Parker on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
WARNING: SPOILER

I am going to quote from the interview above with Ms. Picoult:

"Q: Why did you choose to end the book when you did, rather than going into what happens to the characters in the aftermath of the trial?

A: Because at heart, this is Jacob's book. And remember, to Jacob, there was never any real mystery here, was there?"

With all due respect to the author, there was never any real mystery here to US, either!

I have read every single one of Jodi Picoult's novels. I have loved some more than others, but never have I disliked any, until now.

I was intensely looking forward to buying and reading this book. I have a grandson who is on the autism spectrum, and to Ms. Picoult's credit, she explored the world of Asperger's Syndrome. Jacob is somebody I would like to befriend. That, for me, was the good side.

The bad:

- Her delivery of information about Asperger's bordered on a professorial lecture ... not just once, but over and over again, from his mother, his psychologists and even Jacob himself.

- There was an unbelievable amount of repetition about Jacob's affect, his likes, his dislikes, his meltdowns, his compulsions. We must have heard at least 5 times about the food and clothing colors. Once was enough, we got it!

- The "mystery", however, was the worst part of this novel. I knew from the moment Jacob came home that Tuesday and went into complete meltdown, exactly what had happened, and why.

- Ms. Picoult's treatment of Jacob's defense sickened me. She attempted to present what would happen to an "Aspie" if they became involved in the legal system.
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169 of 198 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In "House Rules," Jodi Picoult explores the complex world of Emma Hunt, who is almost entirely focused on helping her eighteen-year-old son, Jacob, learn to communicate appropriately with his family and peers. This is a Herculean task, considering the fact that Jacob has Asperger's syndrome, a disorder characterized by a compulsive attachment to order and routine, a tendency to take comments literally, hypersensitivity to bright lights, human touch, and scratchy fabrics, a reluctance to make eye contact, lack of empathy, painful bluntness, and difficulty relating to others. Emma's life is complicated by the fact that her husband, Henry, left shortly after their younger son, Theo, was born. Fifteen-year-old Theo deeply resents the amount of time and money that his mother lavishes on his older brother. At great expense, Emma brought early intervention therapists into her home who were "intent on dragging [Jacob] out of his own little world." She also buys costly medicines, supplements, and special foods that, she insists, help regulate Jacob's behavior.

In addition to his other quirks, Jacob is obsessed with forensics. He watches a television show called Crimebusters and keeps a detailed journal of each episode; he even shows up at real crime scenes and offers to "help" the detectives solve their cases. Much to Emma's chagrin, he regularly stages his own mock crime scenes at home, using corn syrup to simulate blood. His preoccupation with true crime becomes an issue when someone he had recently quarreled with is found dead. Eventually, evidence comes to light pointing to Jacob's guilt. Could something have happened that caused him to snap? It would not be the first time that he lashed out after someone provoked him.
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